The war waged against Christmas has been horrendous this year. Cities have refused to allow for public Nativity displays. Public schools have forbidden Christmas religious themes and decorations, revised old Christmas hymns and replaced the words with secular phrases. Retailers have substituted the Merry Christmas greeting with Happy Holidays. Christmas trees have been renamed Holiday trees.
The effort to secularize Christmas, however, hasn't been met without stiff opposition. Various Christian organizations like the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel, Focus on the Family, and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission have lead the way in keeping Christ in Christmas and turned back the "bah-humbug" crowd. It was important to vigorously fight these battles, despite the comments of those who say there's really nothing to get all worked up about.
Matthew Staver of Liberty Counsel recently released an intriguing article citing former President Ronald Reagan's account of how the Communists in the Ukraine sought to first secularize Christmas and then later ban it. Nevertheless, he writes --
"Christians in the former Soviet Union exhibited bravery and courage in confronting Communism's anti-Christmas campaign. One person recalled how the young people would go out in the streets and sing Christmas carols, knowing that if police heard them, they would be arrested. In Communist Romania, Rev. Geza Palffy, a Roman Catholic priest, delivered a sermon in 1983 protesting the fact that December 25 had been declared a work day instead of a holiday. The next day he was arrested by secret police, beaten, imprisoned and died .... Inside and outside the Iron Curtain, Ukrainians never stopped singing: 'We beg you our Lord, we pray to you today. Grant us freedom, return glory to our Mother Ukraine.' Mr. Reagan ended his broadcast: 'I guess we all hope their prayer is answered.' And indeed it was."
Without question, the secularization of Christmas is nothing new and a battle worth fighting to stop. If the "Grinches" of Christmas succeed in stealing the significance of this special season of the year, then ultimately much, if not all, religious freedom in America will be taken with it.
Still, there is another matter concerning the struggle to keep Christ in Christmas every Christian ought to be concerned about. It's been reported by the media that numerous churches will cancel their worship services on December 25 this year. This is unfortunate and sends the wrong message about what Christians really value. As Dr. D. James Kennedy told the Miami Herald, Christians need to "think carefully" before abandoning worship on Christmas day, "especially when many churches are rightly blaming retailers and business for ignoring Christmas."
According to a recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle, Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and Jeremy Gunn of the ACLU say the campaign against the secularization of Christmas is a make-believe war, conjured up by fundamentalist Christians simply to raise money and expand their political power. When Christians fail to show up in their houses of worship when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, are they not affirming such perceptions?
What better opportunity to demonstrate "Jesus is the reason for the season" than by being in church on a day when the celebration of Christ's birth happens to fall on a Sunday? For heaven's sake, Christmas hasn't fallen on a Sunday since 1994 and won't happen again until 2011.
Nevertheless, some contend Christmas day is a time for family. Others say the logistics are bad for worship services on Christmas Day. But referring to Christmas as a family celebration is just another way of redefining away the religious significance of it. And concerning the various logistics of having worship services on Christmas Day (or attending them for that matter), one can appreciate remarks by Paul Proctor in "Will Your Church Be Closed for Christmas?":
"I'm sure the Wise Men from the East and their enormous entourage could have come up with a lot better excuses than these for not following that Star through the night to worship the Christ-child; not to mention Noah, Abraham, Moses and David and all the logistical problems they had to endure in their worship and service to the Almighty; and the Apostles as they struggled through the remainder of their persecuted lives taking the Gospel to a strange and hostile world. No, it seems this year many of us are going to honor that Blessed One who was born to be nailed to a Cross for our sins by taking our ease, trading our toys, watching our TVs and munching out en masse before happy nappy time."
Moreover, what about those who have risked and even given their lives to celebrate Christmas in places where worshipping the Christ was not allowed? Certainly Christians are failing to demonstrate appreciation for their religious freedoms, if they don't even show up for church when Christmas Day is on the same day set aside for worship?
In this busy holiday season, time must be taken to adore Christ, the Savior of the world. The best way to adore Him is to celebrate His birthday 365 days a year -- to allow Him to be born in one's heart. W.Y. Fullerton once wrote, "If Christ is not born, Christmas is nothing; if Christ is not Christ, Christmas is nothing; if Christ is not Lord, Christmas is nothing; if Christ is not known, Christmas is nothing; if Christ is not for me, Christmas is nothing." Nonetheless, Christmas this year falls on a special day -- the Lord's Day. And there's no better place to be on that day than in church, genuinely singing, "O Come, Let Us Adore Him." Sadly, it seems the theme song for many Christians, however, will be "O Come, Let Us Ignore Him."
What will it be for you and your church?
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 16, 2005.]
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.